A memory from 1972

A memory from 1972

It’s not exactly “Lent” connected (okay, it's not connected at all!), but I received an email from an old friend and former member of First Christian Church in Knoxville (the church closed last summer and they sold their beautiful building to a property development company.)  Anyway, the email was about a Louisville person who visited there back in the 1970’s and created memories that some folks still share.  It is edited for length.

"One of the cherished pieces in my scrapbook is an autograph by Muhammad Ali, who came to Knoxville in 1972.  It was not by chance that I got it, but by a concerted effort on my part to welcome the champ in a special way.  I was an assistant to the Mayor, who was out of the city, and designated to do the honors.  Ali was scheduled to speak to the Black Student Union at the University of Tennessee that evening.


He was just as comical in person as he was when I had seen him on television.  He kept us in stitches for the few hours he was here.  Representatives of the UT BSU and the mayor's office met him for dinner at the UT Faculty Club.  Rather than do a usual welcome, I wrote a simple rhyming ode to the champ:


'On behalf of the Mayor and the people of Knox, I salute the Greatest of all those who box.

He's a man of courage and spirit and spunk, who has no time for off-the-wall junk.

He is tall in stature and steeped in ideals, and sends his opponents reeling on their heels. 

Some call him Cassius and some call him the lip, but to his fans he's just plain hip.

He is a man of character, an ambassador of good will. / He travels far on the merit of skill.

And so we in Knoxville affix our official stamp in welcoming a man who is truly the Champ.'

Immediately, he asked who wrote it. When I said I did, he said, 'Can't nobody write poetry like that but me.'

He said he was happy to be in Knoxville and that he had been to many one-horse towns, but this was his first half-horse town.  As we stood around chatting before the dinner, he said, 'I'm hungry.  When do we eat?'  Someone brought him a salad and he mockingly gobbled it up.  When we sat down to dinner, he asked for seconds and commented on the good food. 


We had no clue about the speech he would make, but it did not matter.  He was a champion in more ways than just boxing, and his talk to the students would be entertaining and enlightening.  He was our champ, and we wanted him to

know it. 


We remembered the handsome, brash young man who won the Olympic light heavyweight title in Rome in 1960.  Four years later he was the heavyweight champion of the world.  We watched him "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee."

I am sure his talk at the university would have been memorable, but he received word that his wife had gone into labor and left before his speech was delivered.


My copy of the poem on city letterhead is autographed 'Muhammad Ali, Peace, 1972.'"  Robert Booker, Columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel

 Just thought it was worth sharing.